Sunday, February 11, 2007

Prey: Limited Collector's Edition (Xbox 360) Review

As many of you know, I ordered the PC version of Prey and for all intents and purposes, I got it except they gave me the Xbox 360 disc inside the tin. I decided to keep the Xbox 360 version and play through it, since overall the trade-off is in my favour. Thus, I'll review the Xbox 360 version since the main differences between it's Collector's Edition and the PC's is simply the manuals and sleeve that goes over the Collector's tin.

Now, I first played Prey with it's PC demo back last summer and I liked it a lot, though I heard a lot about it being short, and I didn't want to pay full retail price for something that's over too quickly. Now that I only paid $20.00 for it though, Prey is a hell of a good time.

It features some very good graphics, innovative level design, an actual story that's actually presented like a story (how about that), and some damn good voice acting. Before I get on with all that, however I need to make one thing very clear: Deathwalking. Whoever came up with that idea should get a medal. Fuck, I'm a heterosexual male and I'd kiss the bastard for it. Why? Because Deathwalking has single handedly solved one of the greatest gaming frustrations in history: The dreaded load screen.

In Prey, when you die, instead of loading a save game or a Checkpoint, you're tossed into a mini game where you're in the spirit world separate from your body. While there you shoot the wraiths of the dishonoured dead to restore your body's Health and Spirit and once your body finishes floating through a hole in the centre of the map, you're returned to where you died. Many FPS purists, especially of the PC variety, might call this heresy and that it takes away challenge, I say it keeps the momentum going and never lets up.

Look at it this way: You're playing misc. shooter X, you try something or you get careless and BAM, bullet in the brain pan. Next thing you know, you're loading up your last Quick Save or Checkpoint and staring at some pretty load screen. And still staring at that load screen. And still staring at that load screen a whole lot more when all you want to do is jump back in there and kill things. You were on a pretty good run and now it's all come to a halt. Not with Prey.

In Prey, you die, you go into the Deathwalk mini game and keep on shooting shit, and after about 20 to 30 seconds, you're back into the regular game without missing a beat. This has to be the single most consistent shooter I've ever played that keeps such a steady pace of action, puzzles, and fun. You hear that, Gears of War? It keeps up its fast pace! Someone please tell Epic to look at Prey to see how to do a save system.

Now that that's out of the way, here's the gist of the game. Prey sees you take on the role of Tommy, a native American, a Cherokee to be exact, who's trying to get off his reservation and take his girlfriend with him. He's not too proud of his heritage despite his grandfather's love and advice, and he feels that its all holding him back. That is until aliens come and abduct him, his girlfriend Jen, and his grandfather Enisi, and that's when everything gets fucked up. Ultimately he'll need to learn to embrace the heritage of his people if he has any hope of surviving and rescuing Jen.

Shortly into the game, Tommy will learn to Spirit Walk, which allows him to leave his body (which will be vulnerable) but he can then move around in Spirit form unnoticed until he attacks with his Spirit Bow. Many of the games interesting puzzles revolve around this concept, and it's a great twist to the FPS genre. How Tommy gains this ability is rather cheesy, but it's done in classic, tried and true Star Wars fashion (remember, Obi Wan simply told Luke to "feel the Force" and he magically did somehow). You'll also get a spirit Hawk, Talon, as a sidekick who can point out objects of interest and translate alien text and speech for you. Talon actually comes in quite handy.

Another interesting thing is that Tommy is an FPS character who can talk. Yup, that's right, an FPS lead that can actually hold a conversation. I'm not even talking about the few sentences that you'll hear from the Master Chief with Cortana in that other shooter series, I'm talking about real conversations with Jen, Enisi, and other characters, as well as general comments throughout the whole game. And Tommy can certainly get angry. Needless to say, the dialogue can get explicit and this game is not for the kiddies.

And you know what? Tommy's personality is one of the reasons that Prey is such a lovable game. You honest to God get a feeling that stuff's at stake, that this character has ties to the people in the game world and that he's simply trying to help out those he loves, and then get the hell out of there. It's a level of drama and immersion that games like Half-Life 2 would have you believe are only possible with mute leads, but I say the exact opposite.

Now Prey mainly takes place on the alien world ship called the Sphere, and once set loose, Tommy sets off to rescue Jen and Enisi with only his wrench, but soon finds a bunch of interesting alien weapons. Most of the weapons are standard fare, you have your submachine gun and shotgun for example, they're simply presented in alien form. Also gotta love the Crawler grenades; sort of remind me of Snarks. Prey, however, is not just some run and gun corridor shooter.

Gravity can flip all over the place, portholes open that can take you to and from different rooms just like doorways, as well as let enemies into rooms you thought were secure. You can also walk along ceilings and walls and do a whole lot of funky shit. In fact, a lot of the game's puzzles will challenge you to think creatively, but they're not so hard you'll get stuck. You'll actually feel challenged and then satisfied when you solve most of the game's puzzles, unlike Half-Life 2's simple pick-up-brick-and-drop-it-in-basket puzzle that's repeated to death.

Thankfully, Prey is powered by an enhanced version of the Doom 3 engine, allowing it to handle all the portal and gravity effects nicely. The game isn't overly dark like Doom 3 is (though there is one really dark section in which Tommy makes fun of Doom 3) , and focuses more on action combat than horror. There are a few "jump" moments, but nothing serious.

Having played the PC Demo, I noted that the overall texture quality is a bit higher in the PC version, but it's nothing so drastic that you'll regret having the Xbox 360 version over it. The game's character models, though, seem a step back from Quake 4's in terms of overall detail and quality, but they're certainly quite nice.

The game's musical score is simply beautiful, and it's actually featured as a bonus download with the Limited Collector's Edition. Unfortunately, my version is one of the copies that was missing the download voucher, but there is a redemption policy that's detailed on the main site, which I'm now waiting on. The sound track is very emotional, and underscores the dramatic tension that Tommy goes through nicely. I especially like the tracks featured near the end of the game.

So in the end, is Prey worth it? Well, it's an excellent, story drive, fast paced shooter with a constant pace, cleaver puzzles, great graphics and character moments. The only real problem is it's length. If you actually sit there and play the game quickly, you can probably win it in about 8 hours, and there's only two difficulty settings. With that being the case, I would suggest you wait for it to drop from it's $40.00 price tag. For $30.00 though, this game is spot on, but why not try the free demo available on Xbox Live Marketplace? It actually features just short of a quarter of the retail Single Player game, and will give you a good taste of what Prey's all about.

If you really enjoy it, pick it up or wait for a price drop, however I strongly suggest you go through Prey. To date, its Single Player game is the best Single Player title I've played on my Xbox 360, which is great praise indeed.

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